Newnes Canyon, AKA Starlight, AKA the Amazing Wallaby Tunnel

07-10-2017

Ed, TJ, Sav, Tina, Rob, Autal and me

Most people do Newnes ( or Starlight) Canyon as a round trip, climbing up the pipeline trail, working their way around the ridges and abseiling in. And don’t get me wrong that’s a great way of doing it but there is a lot to be said about doing it as an up and back from the bottom.

The canyon is off limits over winter as it is an important hybernation cave for bentwing bats and disturbing them during their sleepy time invariable leads to a percentage of them dying as there is no food around food them to replenish the energy it takes to come out of hybernation.

Anyhoo, I had planned to do this earlier in the year on the last weekend before the closure except in the week leading up NPs put out a notice that they were hazard reduction burning and all the canyons in the area were closed…….

Fast forward to the other end of hybernation season and we were good to go.

The plan was to ride down the maintenance trail from the locked gate, stash the bikes then make up way up to the cliffline and into the canyon.

I’ve done it this way several times and have always been able to get all the way up to the bottom of the abseil point (the top of the canyon) no dramas. However, last summer people were reporting deep swims in the tunnel and while that is normal after heavy rain the fact that the water hung around post rain had me thinking maybe something in the floor or blockage had changed.

Not tha I was too worried about long swims after the dry winter we’ve had but the thought of a deep wade through stagnant, bat shit filled water wasn’t that inviting. I needn’t have worried as the tunnel was as dry as a nun’s nasty.

But I get ahead of myself

While bikes arn’t necessary they do turn an hour long fire trail walk either way into the 20min ride and the ride down was uneventful, almost. Tina had a small off at the bottom of a loose down hill on a sandy corner and hurt her elbow. As a mad trail runner that didn’t bother her. a sore elbow would not stop her from running so no worries. We hide the bikes in the thick scrub and head across the river which is about as low as I’ve ever seen it.

 

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A bridge over the wolgan

Up the hill we went taking a bit more of a meandering route than I usually take which made the climb up fairly simple, then we took in the views down the Wolgan from the base of the upper cliff  before working our way around into the canyon.

 

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Looking down the magnificant Wolgan Valley

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Entering into the lower canyon is like entering another world. The micro climate is completely different to the scrub out on the exposed hill side

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This is magical, Flynny, says Sav as we make our way up through ferns, coachwoods and vines so big that at first you think you are stepping over a fallen tree, only to realise its a living vine.

I smile to myself, this is just the appetiser and I think that is the reason I like doing the reverse trip of Newnes Canyon. The starlight section is so awesome that when you come through it from the top you are in such awe of the top section that you kind of over look how spectacular this bottom section is.

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There are a few scrambling sections but everytime you would otherwise be blocked tree roots and vines have grown into the perfect pass up.

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And then, just as you are thinking the walls are petering out and the canyon is about to open out the upper cliffs encroach and suddenly the canyon closes in

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A lovely narrow section of canyon follows and again people remark how awesome it is. But again I know it gets better
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Autal in the long section of deep, narrow canyon
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Tina with head torch on as the walls get higher and the canyon gets darker
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The canyon breifly opens out and what was dry, bare and sandy suddenly becomes damp, lush and green
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Tina in the green section

And then we reach the Amazing Wallaby tunnel, better known as the Starlight section, high up the walls close in so much, become so twisted, and are jammed with chock stones that it forms a high narrow tunnel.

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Autal and Rob entering the tunnel

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I feel on previous trips the glowworms were far more abundant, maybe that has to do with the dry winter, maybe it’s just the time of year as I think it’s around mating season for the flies, maybe it’s just modern headlights are so bright now you don’t notice the worms unless you tuen them off and give your eyes a few minutes to adjust, or maybe the bats had a wormy feast when they awoke

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After 300m or so of tight twisting tunnel the roof opens back up and just around the corner is the waterfall that is the normal absiel in point.

I have known people to absiel in here but be blocked by deep water in the tunnel so they had to prusik back out and abseil in further down. I also know of at least 1 group who pulled their ropes without checking the tunnel was passable and were forced to spend a couple of days huddled here waiting for rescue…. When absieling in the first person need check all the way through the tunnel before getting others to absiel or pulling ropes.

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And after taking time to enjoy just being there we leave Ed and TJ to get about photo phaffing with their good cameras and the rest of us make our way back down

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Autal in a narrow squeeze admiring the bats far above
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Autal in the green section

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We have a bit of lunch and then explore up a side canyon called Upside Down canyon.

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Bottom section of Upside Down Canyon.

The bottom section of Upside Down involves some tricky climbs up through small holes. I made the first look far harder than it was mainly as I forgot had the go pro on a chest mount and had to do some contortioning so as not to scracth the crap out of it.

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Rob squeezing up through one of the holes. It’s about 7foot straight down, if you squint you can make out Tina down below him
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Ron in Upside Down canyon
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Our path was blocked by this small waterfall

I remeber the water fall from previous visits and  started brisging up, the walls were a tad slippery, I had no doubt we could get everyone up, what I did doubt thou was getting people back down safely without ropes… I’m sure there use to be a log or something here to make the down climb simpler.

Anyhoo despite knowing the top section has some pretty bit I decide it’s not worth the risk today so we turned tail and headed back down.

Ed and TJ are still phaffing so we sit back and just take in the surrounds

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Honey comb walls. we sat and watched the bird dart in an out of pockets and holes
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Supurb Lyrebird on the wing
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Then it was time to head on out
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I’d noticed this massive vine knotted around the base of the tree on the way up and was hope to catch it in the right light on the way back down. The light did not disappoint. Another advantage of doing the canyon as an up and back the changing light can be magical

 

 

 

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And before long we are back at the Wolgan river

The ride back up the valley is a bit more difficult than the ride down but for a mountain biker it’s still better than trudging along a fire trail.

Party size: 7 mixed canyoning experience levels but all experienced outdoors

Timing: 6hr 20 with lots of photo phaffing and chilling out

 

People talk about their comfort zone as though it’s a place they want to stay don’t they realise your comfort zone is the most dangerous place to be

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Easter Epic ride

It’s been a bit of a tradition over the last 5 years or so that at some stage over the Easter long weekend we do a bit of a longer social ride. We’ve done the Lithgow-Glowworm Tunnels- Wolgan loop a couple of times. Lithgow to Capertee via Black Fellow hands trail, Long Swamp, Baal Bone Gap, Crown Station was a good one. Sunnyside ridge return. All good rides with a more sociable atmosphere

This year I thought we’d try something different, it would be a slightly shorter ride but broken up with a bit of a bushwalk up into the bottom of the delightful Deep Pass Canyon.

The idea gathered a fair bit of interest so even though i knew a few of the regulars had other commitments I was expecting a largish group. but when I rolled into the meeting spot it was just Shawie, Richard and Wiggo there.

We waited until the appointed time and with no sign of anyone else headed off just the 4 of us.

No dramas, we’re all about the same level of fitness so while not turning it into a race we were able to push a steady pace.

Dragon sky or some such thingie was on so the plateau was infested with 900 or so scouts and venturers out having a bit of fun. In times when people often whinge about kids sitting around playing computer games it’s great to so many kids out learning bush skills. We came across them in groups of 4s and fives as the navigated the maze of fire trials between check points.

Your going the wrong way! called Richard as one group came around a corner. We are not! replys girl with map and compass but no sense of humour. Her friends had a bit of a chuckle. Not her. Serious face. Eyes on the prize.

Anyway after a bit of a cold snap earlier in the week it was a pleasant day to be out riding and we covered the miles to the Mt Cameron fire trail turn off in good time and stopped for a bit to eat. From there it was down down and down into Deep Pass Clearing. An awesome walk in camp ground. The thought of lugging gear in and out the steep track on foot usually keeps the hordes at bay but today it was a little tent village.

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Gus Norris and Russel May carved out a bit of a clearing and built a hut down here under an occupational lease way back in the day. The hut was once a popular stop over camp for 4wders, motorbike riders, walkers and partyers. It was dismantled in the 80s(?)

After a bit of a look around the clearing we stashed the bikes and made our way up the head waters of Nayook creek to the bottom of the very pretty Deep Pass Canyon. It was on a very similar excursion (Riding, bush walk, swim) I first visited this canyon on a school camp back in the days of my misspent yooff.

A bit of time soaking in the ambiance then back down to the clearing for lunch then pushing out bike up the steep track up to Deep Pass Saddle and then the steeper trail up through the cliff lines before remounting and taking the back roads homes.

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The little waterfall and deep plunge pool at the exit portal of Deep Pass canyon is a great spot for a dip on a hot summers day
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Richard using one of the fixed lines to scramble up into the next section
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the Second last waterfall is an even better spot for a swim and cliff jump

This was as far up as we went to day. It’s possible to scramble up into the canyon proper with out getting wet via fixed hand lines and an assortment of logs tethered to the walls in the narrow bit but cycling shoes aint the best option.

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Any gimp can rail a berm. AKA the primative joys of an unkept trail

With the rise and rise of machine built trails a lot has been made over  the new era of “groomed to death/may as well be a BMX” trail culture and I don’t want this to come across as one of those “oh the good old days… that’s not mtb…. blah” whines because that is not my intention.  I’m not even sure if this has an intention or a point but anyhoo

Mountain biking is many things to many people, we each get out of it something that is uniquely ours. And to be honest I enjoy whooping around perfect berm after perfect berm on a freshly groomed trail as much as the next rider but, for me at least, the instant gratification of that pales to the joy of learning a tricky corner, picking a line that links to the next one and, finally nailing that bit of trail that up until now had the better of you.

I like Skinnys corner building philosophy, Expose some tree roots and let the line evolve….

 

 

 

I cut my MTB teeth riding the trails on Hassans Walls. They’re a  little rough and ready but they bring a smile to my face every time.

We’re a bit unique up here with lots of easily accessible trails and not too many riders, at times I’ve felt were are more trails then people riding them. As a result the trails don’t get swept and groomed so much.

They are always covered in loose rocks (The infamous Hassans Walls Baby heads) sticks and leaf litter. Every time you ride them there is some thing different waiting to catch you out. You can’t switch the brain off and follow the same old line because sure and shit there’ll be a rock or a stick or a fallen tree. It certainly helps hone your reflexes.

I can hear the “sustainable” “IMBA standard” “Appease land managers” arguments come out and we’re always banging on about setting precedents and needing a foot in the door and crap like that but often I feel we try to reinvent the wheel every time we go to build a trail now days.

Case in point Gun Club DH trail.

It’s had many names over the years and truth be told I have no idea what the builders originally called it but it was know as the state track, Lithgow DH track, riffle range trail but I think Gun club has stuck.

The love child of filthy Phil Lewis and his band of old skool misfits it was built in the 90s on council managed land with full DA approvals. Open to the public, it held a round of the Oceanias, a couple(?) of Nationals and some big state races. 20 years on and I can’t recall 20 maintenance days needing to be done on it. Sustainable? Yeah I reckon so. Fully IMBA standard compliant? I doubt it.

A single documented case user conflict or land manager being sued? Nope, well only if you count the complaints from the lady who thinks we should get her permission each time we ride it…

I remember a couple of very wet races, one in particular you could barely stand on the side of the trail with out get washed down the hill. The “no riding wet trails”crew would have being turning fits but in the weeks and months that followed I reckon the trail was in the best condition of it’s life. Seriously it was so good. Phil was a trail building legend before trail building legends existed.

Back in the day Bumble Bee hollow and Little Thunder were bug bears of mine (Still are as evidenced by the video bellow) I don’t know how many times I ended up laying in the scrub several meters below the bottom corner of Little Thunder wondering how the hell I was ever going to ride it but when I finally got it, and every time since…. well I can’t give you that feeling in a bottle. I wish I could I’d be worth millions.

 

But we get ahead of ourselves. CTMBC was born in 84 but even before that, Grant and Sulli, Meggs, Eric(?) and their mates had  taken to riding  push bikes on motorbike tracks, wombat trails and trails of their own makings.

One of the first MTB trails on Hassans walls was Toots Run, unfortunately the bottom section got destroyed by fire in the early 2000s but the top section had always been linked up with 2 other short sections on a trail that had you feeling like Luke Skywalker chasing the storm trooper through the forest of Endor on the speeder. The trail has, of course, become known as the Ewok Forest.

 

Across the other side of town was an old fire trail (or was it an access road for the pits?) that deevolved back into single trail. Kids would use it was a way of getting their motos up onto the plateau and we started using it as a mtb trail. I think it was Brownie built the bridge that in theory let you avoid the crystal clear and freezing cool natural spring at the bottom, in reality that bridge was always as slippy and frozen snot sprayed with WD40 and more often than not I ended up wet anyway.

Left Hand Gully wound it’s way down a very pretty gorge. Today it would be called a flow trail or something. Back then it was all just mountain biking. It strikes that balance of beginners being able to roll down with out too much drama and the more adventurous being able to scare themselves a little with  sheer speed

 

Back over to Hassans and thanks to a procession of keen riders from Phil, to Tim, Jase, Brownie, Ego Skinny, Mal, Duke and so many more and at one stage there were 13 or 14 trails descending off the mountain

Town Houses made use of a road pushed in for communication towers, linking up with an old walking trail and again the trail is relatively easy at slower pace to me having one of my scariest (yet somehow coming off unscaved) crashes before I even got to the single trail trying to chase Joels time. Oddly enough this was the first trail on the reserve that I managed to ride “clean” i.e not only not crash but not put a foot down. I relive that feeling of accomplishment every single time I get up the rock ledge I fail in this vid.

Back in the day I had a Giant Warp. Even though it wasn’t the Warp DH and so had Vee brakes I thought it was the ducks guts. I had a lot of fun on that bike but the rock garden on CH6 was my nemisis. I seriously went over the handle bars so many times…

At the 2001(?) Nationals I drooled over the red and yellow ATX 1s but they were too big to ride up and so I only drooled. And then the AC come out. “Sex on wheels” one review called it. One had my name all over it.

Disc brakes were a revelation to me. Suddenly I could bomb through the rock garden and be able to pull up enough to get around the corner. Once again that feeling of first nailing it was euphoric. I tend to hit it a bit faster these days and I’m still a bit nervous heading in and still grinning like a fool heading out. As Meggsie says “momentum is your friend, right up until it smacks you in the mouth.

As rough and unkept as it is at times, CH6 still one of my all time favourite trails, largely for that reason

 

All the way to the other end of the scale Pony Express is the latest trail in the reserve. Built to replace the State Mine trail as a modern race track its short, sharp and has plenty of character. The approval process was long and drawn out and well documented else where. It has changed a bit over the years and there are plenty of Edits out there but Scotty Ts is still my favourite

Like Little Thunder before it, Mega Thunder has the wood on me. I’ve ridden it more often then not, actually I’ve never stacked it in mega thunder itself but it gets in my head and I never feel confident on it.

One day I’ll nail it and not look back and that will stay with me far longer then that good time I had carving berms in perfect loam.

So way back at the start I said I didn’t know if this would have a point. I guess it’s this: “Primative trails” have their place. They are fun, can be sustainable and not put land managers off side. They can help hone skills. but most of all: riding bikes is fun

 

Other vids of trails in the area

Pottery

Me and Tal on Left Hand Gully

Me and Tal on Gun Club

The Crew on Gun Club, Pottery and others

 

Old Skool  Me and Skin on Strathlone